BRANDON [August 15]: We spent time in a Gypsy village two and a half hours outside of Budapest. I actually wish we could have spent more time with the people here. We were introduced to a school that's working to educate Gypsy teens. It seems like it's understaffed and underfunded, like many programs in the U.S. that do good work in marginalized communities. Out of the 1000 or so Gypsies in that village, only 2 people have graduated with a high school diploma.
We didn't spend too much time delving into the topic of discrimination and racial justice, because the women were busy organizing a defense team because the National Guard, a right-wing organization similar to the Minutemen in the U.S., were terrorizing their village every night. One thing they DID say was that they organize parties in the community to raise funds, and that Gypsy people have it in their blood to be able to dance, just like Black people have it in their blood to be able to rap. That made me smile because it was a recognition of Black and Gypsy social location within society. I felt this was ten times better than a sociological explanation or me projecting my identity upon folks when I'm not sure of how they identify.
We got to take a walk through the village where we were greeted by two Gypsy youth. It looked as if they were greeting us like warriors. One came with a stick and was very suspicious about us being there, and for good reason I believe. If their older brothers, uncles, fathers and mothers have been on guard for days, not being able to sleep, seeing foreigners walk through their neighborhood would definitely raise eyebrows. We introduced ourselves which made them more relaxed. Before long, we were playing soccer, racing, doing the Michael Jackson, wrestling, and talking about tattoos and piercings. It was a really cool experience. One of the youth even asked me about Africa and how it was there. He said that he'd only been to a nearby town -- I told him that Africa is a cool place and that he should visit sometime. And he nodded.
I totally felt a connection to the Gypsy people in that village, and many of their issues of criminalization, lack of resources, and lack of access are similar to homeless people in the U.S. It really connects because access or lack thereof is racialized in both places. Most of the people that are homeless in New York City are African American. Most of the people that live in abject poverty in Hungary are Gyspy. The stigmas, criminalization, and racism are all things that need to be addressed in a way I feel doesn't put priority of one thing over the other, but sees these things as being used interchangibly to reinforce oppression over a group or groups of people.
; [August 15]:We left Budapest for the two and a half hour drive to Sajókaza at 10:30am. Sajókaza is a former coal mining town in the northeast part of Hungary. Some of the most impoverished residents of Hungary are the Roma people living in this village. Roma people, sometimes called Gypsies, suffer many of the same injustices that African Americans have suffered for years. We arrived and were greeted by the administrator of an alternative school. Our group included many of the same volunteers that have been escorting us around for most of our stay. We sat down to a traditional meal of pasta and cottage cheese. Our host explained many of the problems that Roma folks are going through -- lack of education and sustainable wage jobs, along with discriminatory practices by the Hungarian government and citizens.
The administrator, a long time Hungarian activist and educator, then had us visit a women's group that has organized themselves to demand changes in their community, such as garbage pickup and better housing conditions, and to fight off the loan sharks that pray on the people of Sajókaza.
We then split into two groups and toured the village. For me personally, it brought tears to my eyes that people actually live in such deplorable conditions. The tears were quickly replaced with joy when I met the mother of one of the few high school graduates in Sajókaza. This very proud woman was one of the strongest-willed people I have ever come across.
As we continued to tour the community, our group was greeted by a contingent of children who were ecstatic to meet Americans and share their knowledge of the English language. I soon had a group of about thirty children following me, jockeying for position to tell me how old they were. A majority of the children were eight years old and they taught me how to say eight in Hungarian, and I taught them how to say eight in English and Spanish. They seemed to like the Spanish word ocho. They kept repeating it as they followed me through the village. It soon became a chant as we walked through the village with fists raised chanting,
It was truly awesome. These little activists were so inspiring. As we came to the end of the tour the kids were told by our escorts they should return home, but they continued to try and follow us. It was getting difficult for me to walk away. The kids were chanting louder and louder, and the rest of the group separated themselves from me and moved on. My eyes filled with tears and I turned and walked away. As I met up with the crowd they all hugged me and said that even though you weren't allowed to photograph the village, you will have the memories in your head for the rest of your life.